Corbett camp op-ed criticizes AP’s report on education funding gap
Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration Monday issued the final salvo in the education funding debate that helped topple him.
Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq issued an op-ed criticizing an Associated Press report that concluded the gap between how much wealthy and poor schools spend per student more than doubled during the Republican’s four-year tenure.
“It’s quite a stretch, if not a misrepresentation, to hold the governor accountable for spending decisions made by each school district,” she said.
The AP’s Pennsylvania editor, Larry Rosenthal, said the news organization stands by its story.
“The Associated Press’ analysis of the school funding gap illuminates an issue of significant importance for Pennsylvanians,” he said. “The story notes education funding comes from various sources, including determinations made in 500 communities and from the state. We stand by the story.”
Critics targeted Corbett for failing to replace $1 billion in federal stimulus funds that had been put toward education. The governor and Legislature control only state funding to public schools, which is $10 billion — a record amount, Dumaresq noted. Still, it accounts for about one-third of the $27.6 billion total spent on schools.
To eliminate the spending gap outlined in the AP report, Dumaresq said, “The state would have to step in and make all spending and taxing decisions.
“I have yet to see a line outside the Department of Education of those willing to cede control of their local school district to the state,” she said. “My parting request is that we stop blaming the loss of the $1 billion in federal money on Governor Corbett and refocus our energy on ensuring that Pennsylvania develops a new education funding formula.”
“It’s an administration leaving office that wants — from their point of view — to get the historical record straight,” said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and political analyst at Franklin & Marshall College.
A commission the Legislature formed is studying how best to calculate education funding.
Experts on both sides deplore the system but part company quickly on the best way to move forward.
“You cannot separate the issue of a new formula from the dollar issue,” said Ron Cowell, former Democratic legislator and president of the Harrisburg-based Education Policy and Leadership Center.
“A formula that measures the needs of students and districts and drives the state’s obligation is very different from the Legislature arbitrarily coming up with a number.”
Such an approach could cost $3 billion to $4 billion in new revenue, which “just isn’t there,” said James Paul of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Paul supports what he calls “weighted student funding,” which would tie funding to individual students. Factors such as poverty, English as a second language and others would be given extra weight.
Regardless of what the commission determines, the funding formula must be set by the Legislature.
Corbett succinctly summed up the political dilemma to the AP: “So who do I take it away from?”
Donald Gilliland is a Trib Total Media staff writer.